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Hyperion Records

CDA66433 - Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 10 – Hexaméron & Symphonie fantastique
CDA66433

Recording details: April 1990
Kimpton Parish Church, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom
Produced by Various producers
Engineered by Tryggvi Tryggvason
Release date: April 1991
DISCID: 3411DD16
Total duration: 75 minutes 37 seconds

'Howard's steel-fingered pianistic athleticism is backed by strong musical intuition and there seems no limit to his technical prowess. The recorded sound is a banquet for the ears. Highly recommended' (American Record Guide)

The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 10 – Hexaméron & Symphonie fantastique
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Collaboration between composers has never been particularly fashionable, and usually only succeeds when each composer is separately commissioned to write a movement or a variation. Even then, the most famous examples are notoriously uneven: the ‘other’ Diabelli variations, despite contributions from Schubert and the eleven-year-old Liszt, remain a pretty unexciting collection, and who is interested nowadays in the Minkus bits of La Source beside the glorious pages of Delibes? Schumann himself ditched the movements of the ‘FAE’ Sonata by Dietrich and Brahms in order to make a whole sonata of his own, and Rimsky-Korsakov rewrote a complete opera-ballet, Mlada, to expunge the foreign parts—with Mussorgsky among the casualties. But the Hexaméron is really a success, even if its technical demands keep its concert appearances relatively rare.

The Princess Belgiojoso’s concert, actually for the benefit of Italian refugees, took place in Paris on 31 March 1837, but the Hexaméron was not completed in time. The concert has passed into history, nonetheless, for being the occasion of the celebrated pianistic ‘duel’ between Liszt and Thalberg, yielding the Princess’s legendary verdict that ‘Thalberg is the first pianist in the world—Liszt is the only one’. What certainly never took place was a combined performance of the piece by all six composers, despite many later commentaries. Nor did six pianists ever line up in front of an orchestra to perform it until some recent occasions. In any case, the only score in Liszt’s hand of an orchestral version is shortened by half. Curiously, the original solo version has many indications of a proposed orchestral accompaniment which is clearly intended for the entire piece, and a tutti passage is specified in the finale. But since no orchestral version of this passage in Liszt’s, or any other contemporary’s, hand has yet shown up, the passage is recorded here in Liszt’s printed version for solo piano for completeness’ sake. (Liszt also made two quite different two-piano scores of the piece, neither of which is as long as the original, and one of which has an entirely rewritten ending.)

The title and form of this surprisingly well-integrated work are Liszt’s: he collected and ordered the other composers’ contributions, even removing the the last bar of both the Czerny and the Chopin variations to make a better link into two interludes of his own—the first a dramatic interruption, the second a reflective coda before the finale. The noble introduction begins with a theme by Liszt which he often combines and contrasts with Bellini’s theme. Liszt’s variation is restrained and not at all virtuosic, and Chopin stays aloof from the bravura in a beautiful nocturne. Thalberg, with his three-handed effects, Pixis, with his wicked octaves, Herz with his moto perpetuo, and especially Czerny, with a battery of devilish tricks no doubt intended to test even his most famous student, do their utmost to astound. Liszt saves his thunder until the finale, where he cocks a gentle snook at each of his collaborators before a brilliant peroration.

Putting aside Louise Bertin’s opera Esmeralda, for which Liszt prepared the piano-vocal score and Berlioz the orchestral score [why?!] the sweet little trifle in honour of the Marquise de Blocqueville is the only other shared work involving Liszt. Extracting the gist of the story from Francis Planté’s fulsome account to the Maison Durand, who issued the work in 1927 (it had previously appeared in the magazine Figaro in 1886): Herz had been teaching the piano to the young and inattentive lady, and felt compelled to show his reaction to her dilatory behaviour by writing a short, indecisive, album-leaf as her musical portrait. This she showed to Planté, years later. He responded with a piece of his own, indicating the sound of the local church bell and depicting the older woman’s mature and pious state of mind. The Marquise sent both pieces immediately to Liszt, with a request for a third portrait, and Liszt responded with a wayward connecting passage to a variant of Herz’s theme and a rich extension of Planté’s theme, which Planté himself seems to have enriched with a few bass octave doublings of his own.

Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique requires no introduction or apology, but things were not so in the early years of its history. Although Berlioz had a certain success with the work, it took some time before it became a repertoire piece. Publishers for the parts and score could not be found, and Liszt’s transcription represents the work’s first appearance in print. Liszt proselytised endlessly for this and many another work of his great colleague, and the transcription served to clarify many a mind confused by an inadequate orchestral performance of the piece. Schumann was obliged to fall back upon Liszt’s transcription to review the work—fortunately, Liszt supplies copious indications of the original orchestration—and this remained the only printed score until 1845. By this time, Berlioz had permitted himself a good many alterations to the original text, and it has become somewhat common for pianists to alter Liszt’s transcription correspondingly. But because, for example, there is a strikingly different passage in the second movement, it has been decided for this recording to present the transcription as it was originally published. The only solution which has to be made is towards the end of the first movement, where Liszt places on a third stave the notes which he perhaps felt that two hands might not be able to reach, but which, with very little adjustment, can actually be grafted onto the main text. The fourth movement is given here in its original transcription too, rather than the 1865 revision which was intended for separate performance, is somewhat simplified, and is extended with an introduction—a rather weak revision of Liszt’s excellent little propaganda piece: Idée fixeAndante amoroso (recorded on Volume 5, CDA66346).

Leslie Howard © 1991


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